The Great American Novel Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Great American Novel is the story of the bumbling Ruppert Mundys baseball club and of the Patriot Baseball League. In a lengthy prologue, aging sportswriter Word Smith (Smitty) recalls the greatness of the league, hints at the reasons for its demise, and bemoans the attempts by Americans of all walks of life to erase the league from memory. His mission is to preserve this part of American history: The story which makes up the novel proper is his account of the league’s demise.

The main action of the novel occurs in 1943 and 1944, though numerous flashbacks provide a sense of history necessary for the reader to understand the relationship of the Patriot League to the other major leagues and to provide the rationale for much of the action which takes place during this fateful baseball season. In these flashbacks, interspersed throughout the novel, the reader learns of the tragedy of umpire Mike Masterson, whose child was kidnapped and killed; the banishment of legendary pitcher Gil Gamesh; the missionary zeal of Mundys manager Ulysses S. Fairsmith; the conversion of Tri-City Tycoons owner Angela Whitling Trust from sexual profligate to dedicated American Communist hunter.

In 1943, the Ruppert Mundys find themselves without a home ballpark; the War Department has taken over their stadium as a training camp, and they are forced to play their entire season on the road. The ballplayers who make this season-long odyssey are a collection of men too old, too young, misfit, malformed, or maladapted for life in the big leagues. As they travel from city to city losing game after game and making fools of...

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The Great American Novel Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cooper, Alan. Philip Roth and the Jews. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996. Cooper explores the spectrum of Roth’s writing, including his early works, the “post-Portnoy seventies,” and the Zuckerman novels. An excellent overall critical view.

Gentry, Marshall B. “Ventriloquists’ Conversations: The Struggle for Gender Dialogue in E. L. Doctorow and Philip Roth.” Contemporary Literature 34 (Fall, 1993): 512-537. Gentry contends that both Doctorow and Roth are different from other Jewish authors because of their incorporation of feminist thought into traditionally patriarchal Jewish literature. He notes that their reconciliation of feminism and Judaism could alienate them from both groups, but he commends their attempt.

Greenberg, Robert M. “Transgression in the Fiction of Philip Roth.” Twentieth Century Literature 43 (Winter, 1997): 487-506. Greenberg argues that the theme of transgression pervades Roth’s novels, and he demonstrates how this idea of infraction allows the author to penetrate places where he feels socially and psychologically excluded. An intriguing assessment of Roth’s work.

Halio, Jay L. Philip Roth Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1992. Halio offers a brief biographical sketch of Roth, as well as in-depth discussions of his works. Includes a chapter entitled “Tour de Farce: The Comedy of the Grotesque in The Great American Novel.” Also includes helpful notes and a selected bibliography for further reading.

Halkin, Hillel. “How to Read Philip Roth.” Commentary 97 (February, 1994): 43-48. Offering critical analyses of several of Roth’s books, Halkin explores Roth’s personal view of Jewishness, as well as other biographical elements in his works.

Podhoretz, Norman. “The Adventure of Philip Roth.” Commentary 106 (October, 1998): 25-36. Podhoretz discusses the Jewish motifs in Roth’s writing and compares Roth’s work to that of other Jewish authors, including Saul Bellow and Herman Wouk. He also voices his disappointment concerning Roth’s preoccupation with growing old as expressed in his later novels.